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Historical Themes

About American Historical Scholarship

For decades American historians concentrated their efforts upon writing biographies of significant historical figures and constructing narratives of the flow of large military and political events. In large part this emphasis reflected the state of the readily available source materials. Politicians, businessmen and other well-known historical figures often left well-organized sets of papers behind. Wars and the struggles of electoral politics also left behind significant paper trails as well. Many historians simply took up their research in these rich collections and produced helpful, enduring volumes.

By the 1960s a new generation of historians had begun to reevaluate this scholarship however. Many came to see in the prevailing emphasis upon politics and "great men" a larger pattern of oversight and even discrimination. Much as African-Americans, women, Native Americans and workers often found themselves largely excluded from American public life, they also seemed to be missing from the historical record.

In the succeeding decades historians turned a large share of their energies to examining and describing the experiences of these overlooked groups. African-American, women's, Native American and labor historians uncovered vast new troves of source materials, and told new stories. As significantly, they began asking new types of questions.

This new scholarship marked a significant shift in the shape and form of historical literature. In place of large narrative histories that often drew a considerable public audience to a familiar literary form, the new scholars usually produced monographs aimed at a small group of specialized colleagues. Instead of a chronological story, these volumes developed closely reasoned arguments around a single theme. Thus while the new historical literature incorporated important new source materials and developed provocative new interpretations, it also distanced itself from the public audience historians had once enjoyed.

Lincoln/Net seeks to use the power of the Internet and World Wide Web, as well as the appeal of Abraham Lincoln's "representative life," to bring these new interpretations to a broader public audience. This World Wide Web site will examine Lincoln's experiences and context in detail, using the findings of professional historians to amplify Lincoln's story and shed light upon his social and political context.

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